[Today: Martian rock…]
Latino pioneers. Garage legends. Martian rockers?
Question Mark And The Mysterians became the first Latino group to hit Billboard #1 when ’96 Tears’ shot to the top of the charts in October of 1966. Featuring a bouncy, Farfisa Organ-driven rhythm and raw production, ’96 Tears’ is the prototype of the late-60’s Nuggets-style garage rock sound. If you wanted to distill garage rock down to a single song, ’96 Tears’ would do the trick.
Lead singer Rudy Martinez legally changed his name to ?, believes he’s a Martian, and claims that he lived with the dinosaurs in a past life. Among his other eccentricities, ? is never seen in public without wraparound sunglasses. He’s also among the best lead vocalists in garage rock – a sneering, smooth singer who sells some pretty thin songwriting. This Saginaw, MI group formed in 1962 and named themselves after a Japanese horror movie about invading aliens. To be a Latino band in early-60’s middle America must have felt like being a band of invading aliens, and ? And The Mysterians played with a suitably sized chip on their shoulder.
“The thing is, we were real. We had an attitude and look,” explained ? in 1997. “I didn’t want to have neckties and smiles. There’s a different part of life I wanted people to start seeing. That was the whole thing and the attitude in the songs. So, that’s where the edge of our songs comes from.” Sometimes there’s not enough of that edge – their treatment of ‘Stormy Monday’ is too poppy, and ‘Set Aside’ is a wandering instrumental that never really finds its groove. But when this group puts it together, as they do for a good chunk of 30 Original Recordings, they made quintessential garage rock.
Question Mark And The Mysterians’ original recordings have been out of print for far too long – reportedly due to personal differences between ? and ABKCO proprietor Allen Klein, who owns the group’s masters. Klein, the former manager (some might say rip-off artist) of The Beatles and Rolling Stones, recently passed away, providing hope that these classic songs will at last see the distribution and recognition that they’ve long deserved. In the meantime, ? And The Mysterians have continued performing live in various incarnations, wowing crowds at a variety of garage rock festivals, and proving that even Martians know how to rock…
Listen: 96 Tears
Listen: 8 Teen
Listen: It’s Not Easy